Why should the need for companionship mean that you have to define your sexuality?
Margret has come to the end of working career and a life populated with false friends and empty relationships, and all that is left is the prospect of a life alone. The only perverse, and dark upside to this is that her remaining time will be short lived - For Margaret Laine is dying.
When the plane journey home connects her to Alison, a strange but outgoing girl almost half her age, Margret learns to face her true self.
Someone she has little to do with for over forty years.
"Excuse me, miss?"
The sound of a woman's voice was largely ignored until Margret realized that she was the 'miss' to whom she was referring to. She turned to see who it was that had called to her only to find that it was the young woman who would become part of the underlying story of her last trip home. Margret said nothing, instead choosing to acknowledge her with a questioning tilting of her head. What had she dropped now? I couldn't be her book as she had given it away to the red-headed stewardess. A girl who looked as though she had been tire-levered into an airline uniform that had clearly been designed for women less buxom than she. The gaps that formed, as the buttons strained against the one job they had been designed to do revealed a bra that would have been Victoria's lesser known secrets, and reflected an issue that Margret had had to deal with for most of her life. Big boobs were all fine and dandy, but if you wanted to do anything extreme like run, jump or find something that would cover them up and still fit the rest of your body, then you were on a non-starter. She had warmed to her instantly as her attempts to fit her surroundings were as successful as her attempts to fit her dress and had offered the book to her as a gift. To be honest, it was easier to give the thing away rather than add something else to the carry. The young stewardess offered Margret a warm smile, grateful for the attention given to her as someone so out of place within her chosen industry.
An action that was echoed, though in contradiction by her fellow workers whose smiles were as sincere as a crocodile - As false as their breasts.
As the girl got closer she looked to see if there was anyone else around, for the sudden primeval fear of being alone in the presence of a stranger caught her a little unawares.
"Can I help you?' she asked with a forced confidence in her tone.
"Well I am hoping so", said the girl as she drew closer.
She had a wide, friendly grin that caused her bright blue eyes to sparkle, and a mop of black curly hair that ran past her neck and stopping at her shoulders framed her features perfectly. Over her shoulder hung a small back-pack that pulled at the sleeve of a T-shirt that had seen better days, revealing the tail end of a tattoo and the lack of any supportive underwear. Not that she needed it, Margret mused, for she appeared to be as flat as a pancake. She held his hands up defensively as if detecting Margret's uncomfortable and vulnerable feelings, one of which she held her shoes.
"Look, I know you probably get this all the time. Maybe you don't - I hadn't considered that." She said as if talking to a third person. "And I am sorry for being another of 'Those people' as it were". She continued. The girl made quotation marks in the air with her fingers as to highlight the 'Those people' part of his sentence, something that Margret had long thought of as moronic.
"Get what?" she said, still confused and slightly alarmed at being accosted in this way. Her tone suggested a forced politeness, tinged with slight the hint of annoyance as if the girl was about to ask for money. This was one of the many downfalls of looking and dressing as she did. Perverts staring at her tits, and beggars after her money.
"Well." Continued the girl, stopping in order to take a deep breath. She seemed to be steeling herself against something larger than the acquisition of extra cash. "Would you consider having a drink with me?" She said eventually. "Or dinner?" she added hurriedly when Margret's puzzled expression did not change. "Coffee even?" Came the further suggestion after it seemed obvious that her request was not well met.
There was a small pause between them when even the air seemed to stop moving. Margret's mood became frosty at what she thought of as an incredulous, if not insulting suggestion.
"No". she said sharply as she turned to walk away. "Don't be ridiculous".
"Oh", said the girl in what could only be described as a deflated voice, "That's a new one. Why is it ridiculous?"
Margret stopped and turned on her heels. She marched back up to her.
"How old are you young lady?" she said.
"Er! Twenty-Nine, I think."
"You think you are Twenty-Nine?"
"Yes, Twenty-nine - Definitely Twenty-Nine. And it's Alison".
"And how old do you think I am?"
The young woman, who had now revealed herself to be in the possession of the name, Alison. drew the corners of her mouth down and shrugged.
"I hadn't given it much thought to be honest. Does it matter?"
Margret raised her eyebrows and turned again.
"Old enough to be your grand.."
Her ego and vanity mentally caused her words to do the equivalent of a handbrake turn, correcting themselves in the process, in the hope that the strange girl hadn't noticed the slip. "Your Mother", she said over her shoulder. "That's why it is ridiculous - And yes, it does matter."
"Alison." Said Alison. "And that doesn't make any sense."
Margret carried on walking. She didn't need this. Not today. Hormonal children acting out a fantasy - on the demands of some bet probably. That made her angry. Get the sad old bat to say yes, grateful that someone, anyone would find her attractive at her time of life. They're probably videoing it on their phones somewhere. Something to upload and laugh at later. She turned on her heels again and stormed towards her.
"What kind of a woman do you think that I am?" she said.
"One that has an unhealthy obsession with age?"
"There is a name for people like you."
"Yes, it's Alison." She held out her hand. "What's yours?" She added.
Margret slapped her hand away.
"My name is none of your business."
"You know." Said Alison sagely. "You'd be surprised at how many women I have met who are called that."
She laughed at her own joke until silenced by the fact that she appeared to be alone when dealing with the opinion that she was in any way, funny.
She held up her hands once more.
"Look." She said, "I think we may have got off on the wrong foot. My name is Alison. I noticed you at the airport and I thought, there is a nice lady in a very short dress, I wonder if she will talk to me."
Margret fought the urge to pull the hem of her dress down.
"Unfortunately," continued Alison, "I was called away before I could find out. Apparently, my flight had been cancelled, but as luck would have it, I ended up on the same flight as you. I remember thinking, 'Oh cool, there's that nice lady again, so I smiled at you, and you smiled back. You have a very pretty smile by the way. When everyone got off the plane you seemed to vanish in the crowd and so I thought, oh well, lost opportunity and all that, but then I saw you again, right in front of me and so I said, what the hell."
There was a pause between them. Frosty a best.
"Finished?" Said Margret eventually.
"Pretty much." Replied Alison with a smile. One that quivered at the edges with uncertainty.
"Good. Now go away and leave me alone." With that, she walked over to where she had left her bag, and on picking it up, Margret walked away.
"To answer your question," said Alison as she called after her. "I think you are a woman who places too much value in an imaginary age gap."
Margret stopped once more.
"So I'm imagining an age gap now?" she scoffed.
"You existed before I did for sure, but now we both exist together. Time is merely an agreed medium for us to measure that existence. It's not a real thing. You can't travel forward, back or in it or anything."
Margret turned and began to speak, but Alison continued before she could interrupt her.
"Look", she said, "At the moment you are ten feet in front of me. Does that mean that you're further away from me, or am I'm further away from you? The answer depends on how you look at it, and from what end."
She took a few steps forward until they were almost level.
"Now there is no distance at all. But if you keep walking away the gap will just grow bigger."
Margret found it hard to speak. Although she found this woman annoying, and her presumption that her lifestyle choice was something that all women would love to, and should be part of, insulting to say the very least, her words were strangely captivating, and her views insufficiently intriguing. She found herself conflicted between the need to hear more, and the urgency to distance herself from this lunacy as quickly as possible.
"The further you walk from any place, the bigger the gap will be." Alison continued. She offered Margret a piece of folded paper which she took without resistance. "All I am saying is, if we all stop walking away from one another, then we can all travel this road together."
A frown crossed Margret's face as Alison re-holstered his backpack over her shoulder.
"Nice to meet you...?" She tilted her head and arched her eyebrow questioningly.
"Margret," she said quietly.
"Nice to meet you, Maggie".
She gestured towards the piece of paper in Margret's hand.
"In case you change your mind." She said as she started to walk away, backwards so as to keep facing Margret "It's just coffee." She shrugged.
Margret watched the woman disappear into the night until her absence broke whatever spell she had just caste. She shook her head and picked up her bag once more.
She pocketed the folded note.
"It's Margret." She said to herself. "Not Bloody Maggie."
THE LAST CHANCE FOR A FIRST DATE
A week had passed since her subconscious mind had suggested that she held some hidden desire to explore a more 'feminine' side to her sexuality by way of a dream that had left her confused, and slightly aroused. It was a stupid notion. A momentary lapse of reason and sanity brought on by loneliness and boredom. So why on earth had she sent the text?
She had spent the past half an hour composing what she wanted the message to say. She didn't want to come over too needy, or too cold. It shouldn't have been that hard, after all, this is what she did for a living - Used to do for a living. The manipulation of words always came easy. But this was different. It was a bad idea and a stupid one at that. Maybe if she thought of Alison as a potential client? Yes, that would work. She stood up and looked out of her window. She had been doing an awful lot of that of late. She hadn't realized just how much time her work had taken up, or just how much it had become her life, but this sudden need to fill that yawning gap was no excuse to give in to a texting a woman that was thirty years her junior. She jumped when her phone buzzed in her hand.
'Hey', the message read. 'Of course, I remember you. How are you?'
At least she didn't use that ridiculous text speak that seemed to be ruining the English language. She took a deep breath.
"Just a client." She said to herself.
Margret tapped out a reply.
'Good thank you. Is that offer of coffee still on the table?'
She felt funny. A mixture of nerves and excitement. She chastised herself. She wasn't a bloody teenager for God's sake. Her inner voice rang in her ears. 'Compared to you, She may as well be.'
"Just a client," Margret repeated. It was like a mantra. Something to calm and centre herself. She took another deep breath and another. She felt her heart rate slow and closed her eyes against the world until she let out a small yelp when the phone buzzed again. She put her hand to her mouth and laughed at her foolishness. She looked at the screen.
'Absolutely' It read. 'Just tell me when and where.'
'I'm free today' She replied. Did she sound too needy? Too desperate?
Another message. 'Me too.'
How long would she need to get ready? An hour maybe? Who was he kidding, two at the most.
'There is a small coffee house at the entrance to Greenwich Park. Do you live far from there?
Her hands shook as she tapped out the message. It was just a bloody dream. It didn't mean she was gay - Just lonely. In need for human interaction. Social rather than sexual intercourse. What the hell was she doing? But even as she was questioning her actions her thumb instinctively hit the send button as if bypassing any objections to her subconscious motives. Within seconds, her phone lit up.
'I live in Deptford. I'm like, twenty minutes from there. When do you want to meet?'
She bit her bottom lip in apprehension and stared at her reflection in the wardrobe mirror. An hour to get ready. An hour to talk herself in and out of this stupid decision. Arguing against reason where none existed, and Twenty-five minutes by tube to get there.
'How does 1.30 sound?" she replied.
'It's a date.'
Margret put the phone on the bed and stood up. She felt nervous and excited at the same time. A woman had asked her if she wanted to have coffee with her and she had accepted. Margret was an adult, and so was Alison. Kind of. So why did she feel like a foolish school girl on her first date? It wasn't a date. Just coffee. Her mind wandered momentarily back through the years and to the memory of her actual first date. She was Sixteen and her date, Charlie Taylor was Seventeen. They had gone to the movies to which Charlie had insisted that they sit in the back row. They had kissed. Obviously. Charlie's hands found its way into Margret's sweater. Predictively. And when her hands touched the obvious swelling between his legs, Charlie lost control. Amusingly.
The date had ended in an embarrassed apology from Charlie and the promise from Margret that she wouldn't tell any of his, or her friends. She never had.
It was around that time that Margret began to understand the power that woman had over men, and some woman if the truth be told. Although the latter realization only came to light many years later. Had she used this power to manipulate her male counterparts? Of course, she had. Had she used her sexuality to gain clients, stealing them away from others who didn't have the same 'Weapons of Mass Deception' she had? Most certainly. Was she proud of this? Well. No. But you didn't have to like the rules in able to play the game well. You just had to understand them. Accept them. Use them.
Margret stood up and opened up the walk-in closet to see what she could wear to this 'non-date'. Along both sides were racks of outfits that had been bought over the years with one purpose in mind. To seduce and to manipulate. Low cut tops and high hemlines with varying supports designed to give the impression of shape to an ever-increasing waistline and butt. Boots and shoes with accompanying stilettos heels to give her the height that nature had denied, and underwear that hardly qualified to meet the criteria or the job they were designed for.
On the back wall hung the reminder of just how far Margret had been prepared to go to seal a contract. A short, soft-leather whip and leather basque screamed at her, highlighting her degradation and lack of morals, for when it came to business, Margret had no problem in abandoning all of hers. If these had been part of her personal life then perhaps she would have hidden them away. Something to be brought out during times of intimacy and daring. An expression of love and trust maybe, for another who felt as she did. Instead, they acted as instruments of her own phycological torture - A far cry from the tools they once mimicked. Now they served only as a mere representation of the pain and loneliness that had filled this part of her life.
She looked around. Anything she wore would cling to her and show that she was a woman of substance, both in body as well as character. She smiled ironically, for a character was exactly what she had been playing all these years. From high-powered businesswoman to whore, Margret had played them all. 'The Chameleon' her bosses had called her. A woman able to adapt to any situation and to become exactly what the client needed. Was today going to be any different? How could it be? This is all she knew.
"Ladies and gentlemen." She muttered. "We present for your viewing pleasure - An experiment into latent lesbianism." Margret picked out the red dress. It was the sister to the one that she had sworn to throw away on her arrival back home which in truth now hung back where it had always done. There were heels to match - There always were.
The warm day dictated that she had no real need for stockings, which was something she was rather glad of as the suspenders always made her legs feel as though they were spring loaded. On some days, she swore that she would need a three-step advance notice in order to stop walking. She held the dress up to her body and looked in the mirror.
"It's just coffee." She said out loud. "It's just coffee." So why did she feel so nervous?
She scolded herself at this inability to meet another woman without this ludicrous presumption that it had to lead to sex. Why can't two women meet for a coffee without the world thinking that it was something more than a friendship. But it wasn't the world that she was concerned with, for her unconscious choice of underwear had excluded the 'Fatbuster' in favour of a bra and a pair of knickers that would prove to be more seductive than serviceable, and as much as she tried to put them back in the draw, with the full intention of struggling into a garment that would present the lie told over the past ten years, Margret could not dismiss the thought that on some level, and at some time, Alison would see her naked.
She turned and stepped out of the closet - The irony of which was not lost on her.
The day was bright and warm, and the air was filled with the scent of a multitude of flowers that had taken the opportunity to spread their pollen as far as they could. The trees that lined the main walkway of Greenwich park shone pink with cherry blossom and hummed with the low buzz of all manner of insects that sought its life-giving sustenance. The Sun sat high in the midday sky and brought a calm to the centre of one of the world's busiest cities, and warmed the hearts and minds of all those who had taken the time to walk away from the madness that was their working day. If only for an hour.
Alison sat outside a small café situated near the main entrance and basked in the sunshine. She had been waiting for about half an hour and had slipped into a semi-conscious daydream, losing herself in the subtle sounds and smells of the park until the unmistakable sound of sharp heels on pavement drew her back to reality. She held her hand up in order to shield her eyes against the glare of the early afternoon sun and smiled as she saw Margret walking towards her. The woman had obviously made an effort to look her best with a dress that showed a figure that Alison would describe as 'Voluptuous'. Indeed, every step she took was echoed in the ripple of a cleavage that you could comfortably park a bike in. She walked with the confidence of someone who was well practiced in the art of wearing the type of heels that Alison would have easily broken her ankle in, had she dared wear them. Quite frankly, Alison felt a bit lazy as she had basically put on the first thing she had found. The shirt she wore was just hanging on the back of her sofa - She wasn't even sure that it was hers, but it fitted, and it seemed to be clean. The short denim skirt and boots added to the outfit, creating a style that most of her friends had labelled, 'What were you thinking?' She smiled and waved out to Margret, who returned her greeting with nervous half-wave of her own. Alison removed her feet from the chair that they had been resting on and stood up, smoothing down her shirt and skirt as she did so in a vain attempt to make herself a little more presentable.
"Hi." She said when Margret was within earshot.
"Hello." Replied Margret as her eyes flicked around the surrounding area in search for some familiar face that would recognize hers in return.
"You look nice."
Margret smiled nervously as Alison ruffled her thick curly hair into some sort of acceptability.
"Sorry." She said. "I feel so scruffy compared to you."
"It's just coffee." Replied Margret flatly, still unsure as to who she was trying to convince. The details of her dream flashed within her mind causing her cheeks to redden a little, for since that night she had used the images created by her sub-conscious to fuel the fires of her inner lusts. She winced against the rising tide of foolishness she felt at the yawning age gap that made itself so obvious by their differing attitudes to this 'non-date', coupled with having now found herself face to face with the subject of her latent desires. Margret's eyes flicked down to Alison's legs. They were long and slender, just like Alison herself, unlike Margret who always felt the need to add to her height by way of the highest heels she could find. The disadvantage being that they set the angle of her feet in such a way that Margret always felt that she was walking downhill. Her further scrutiny showed that the combination of her white shirt, and the position of the sun betrayed Alison's modesty turning it almost transparent in its glare. Again, Margret could not help herself. In comparison to hers, Alison's breasts were really quite small, visible only through her shirt by the darkness of her nipples. She caught Alison's eye and bowed her head sharply.
"I'm not gay." She said suddenly, more by way of an apology than an explanation. The words left her too quickly, blurted out in panic rather than being rehearsed and planned. It was like she was making a declaration of innocence. A proclamation almost, that this was nothing more than it seemed, with no underlying agenda or expectation, contrary to the obvious 'checking out' of Alison's body. If the truth be told, Margret was comparing rather than admiring but her own internal reasoning suggested that from any other perspective this could not be seen as anything other than the latter.
"Neither am I." laughed Alison. "It's nice to know I am being judged on my appearance, rather than as a sex object."
"I wasn't judging you," said Margret, concerned that her actions were hurtful. Later she would muse that her concern for another's feelings was a new thing. She couldn't remember another time where this would have figured in any part of her day.
Who was this person? Why should it matter to Margret what she thought?
Alison put her hands up.
"I'm just messing with you, Maggie." She laughed.
Margret looked confused.
"So why did you ask me out?" she said. "If you're not.." She left the sentence unfinished, daring not to say the word again as if almost afraid that its mere mention could spark this suggestion of lesbianism into stark reality.
"Gay?" Alison shrugged. "Because I liked you. So why did a non-gay lady like yourself come along?" she replied.
Margret ignored the gentle ribbing from her lunch date, for there were so many answers to that question, all of them built up over years of suppressed truths and forgotten dreams. Margret sighed and sat down, and as she did so she placed her hand to her rear in order to smooth her skirt out. She pulled at the hem out of habit and adjusted her neckline likewise. Alison sat also and crossed her legs and again, Margret's eyes were drawn to them. She felt a pang of envy that she was able to wear skirts so short that they had nowhere left to ride up to.
"I had a dream." Said Margret quietly distracting herself away from this act of inappropriate voyeurism.
"Are we talking a life dream or something you had while sleeping?" Alison's smile was genuine and put Margret slightly more at ease than she had been a few minutes ago.
"The sleeping type." She replied.
"Cool. Was I in it?" she said with a slight laugh, and then stopped when she saw the embarrassment on Margret's face. Alison put her hand to her mouth. "Really?" she said in a hushed voice. "I don't think I've ever been the subject of a rude dream - It was a rude dream? Not 'something else'?" Again, Alison did the air quotation marks that had annoyed Margret on their first meeting. She needed a moment to breathe. This confession was too soon to declare and had this been the client meeting she had convinced herself that this 'non-date' would simulate, then this would be an ice-breaker rather than an opening gambit. Something to laugh at over drinks in the bar later. She signalled to the young man who was tending the tables, using the time he took to get to them to rearrange her thoughts.
"What can I get you ladies?" he asked when he came over.
Margret instinctively pulled her top higher as she was uncomfortably aware of the view offered to him from his angle.
"Cappuccino please. One sugar." Smiled Alison.
"Does Mum want the same?" he said looking at Margret. There was no sarcasm in his tone, but his inappropriate assumption stung Margret who stood up to leave when her fears that others would see her as a matriarch rather than a friend highlighted the absurdity of this decision to spend time with a woman half her age. She had previously asked Alison the question of what sort of woman she thought Margret was. Well, with a sharp snap back to reality Margret saw herself as a sad old woman, desperate for the attention of anyone who would give it to her. Alison stood also and placed her hand on Margret's arm.
"This was a mistake - I'm sorry. I have to go." She said. But Alison's hand stayed where it was, her eyes never leaving Margret's panic-stricken stare.
"You haven't answered my question." She said quietly. Margret eyes flicked to Alison's hand and then back to her face. "Why did you come?" There was a pause. A moment where such an important question required the whole world to hold its breath in anticipation of an answer.
"I'm dying," Margret said simply.
A small tear ran from the corner of her eye, and Margret was not sure if this was from humiliation or the sounding out of her inevitable fate. This confession had made it real, and surprisingly, it hurt. Alison's long arms snaked around Margret's back as she pulled her in so close that both women could feel the beating heart of the other. The conflicting smells of Alison's cheap soap and shampoo mixed with the Margret's expensive, tailor-made cosmetics, both telling a story of each woman's individuality perfectly. One being a bactericide made specifically to clean and strip away the grim of the day, whilst the other was designed to enhance and transform what was natural into the imaginings of some inner dream. To cater for a heightened and desperate ego. They hugged for what seemed an eternity before the sound of the waiter shuffling his feet nervously, broke the spell.
'Yes please." She said with a smile and then turned her attention back to Margret. The waiter made his grateful exit.
Margret took a little time for her heart to stop thudding in her chest, unsure if it humiliation or anger that had caused her need to remove herself from this situation. She looked around at the scene around her. The day to day comings and goings of the people. The flowers, trees, and wildlife - All of them with one thing in common. They didn't care. For Margret's reason for being here. For the dream that had brought forward thoughts of latent homosexuality. This meeting that could solidify this 'outing.' They simply did not care. All her issues were being widely ignored as they were her problem and her problem alone.
"If you keep walking away Maggie, then no-one will be able to catch up with you."
"What is?" Asked Alison.
"My name." Replied Margret, still not making eye contact. "I don't like Maggie."
Alison took Margret's hand.
"Then Margret it is."
With a calming sigh and a resolve to see, whatever this was, through to the end, Margret sat back down. They both sat in silence until the nervous, and equally, silent waiter brought their coffee over. He cleared his throat and began to talk.
"I'm awfully sorry if I offended you ladies." He said quietly.
Again, this unfamiliar feeling of concern washed over Margret. The guy was genuinely upset at his earlier presumption, and this shifting of an unseen and probably imaginary balance of power sparked Margret's confidence once more.
"That's not a problem young man." She said. "At least you didn't say Granny."
The waiter smiled with relief.
"Thank you, Ma'am." He replied.
When he had left, Alison turned to Margret with a smile.
"So" She said. "Tell me a story."
Margret took another deep breath and let out a year of a sigh.
"The dream I had, the one with you in it, sparked something within me."
Alison took a sip of her coffee and said nothing.
"The reason I said, a little too urgently now I come to think of it, that I am not gay was due to the fact that I feel that my subconscious was trying to remind me that there is something missing from my life - Something important."
"Such as?" Asked Alison.
"I was told, about three months ago now, that I had roughly one year left to live - That's without treatment."
"And with treatment?"
"I could maybe get another year, but a year spend wired up to a machine with various tubes sticking out of me."
She stopped for a minute and took a sip of her own drink until the wave of emotions that had swept over her dissipated a little.
"There's no one you see."
Alison tilted her head in question as if to provoke an answer to her unsaid question.
"No-one to mourn me to sit by my bedside and hold my hand as I slip into - Wherever the dying slip to. So, I decided to live the last few months and go out on my terms."
Margret took another sip of coffee and raised her eyebrows resolutely over the brim of the cup.
"So, is this a bucket list thing?" Alison asked, and wincing at her own insensitivity. "Sorry, that was so rude of me."
"That's okay. No - It's nothing like that." Replied Margret, eager not to offend Alison by making her feel used. "This is simply me reacting to your offer. The chance to connect with someone on a level other than one that is designed to create profit."
"Friendship then?" Asked Alison
Margret reached across the table and took Alison's hands.
"More than that - Mutual respect maybe? Who knows?"
She looked at her hand and smiled at the difference in texture and contours. Alison's smooth, young skin standing out in stark comparison to Margret's that had become wrinkled and sun damaged over the years.
"For this simple act to mean something." She said. Her words seemed small and fragile as if she was talking to herself - Alone with her thoughts and lost in a dark world created by greed and selfish lusts. Margret let go of Alison's hand and took a sip of coffee. She closed her eyes for a moment as she arranged her thoughts into words. "I look in the mirror these days," she said, "and the woman who stares back at me is not someone I would want to spend time with, let alone go on a date with - Not that this is a date of course." She added, a little too hurriedly. Margret closed her eyes and sighed "Sorry." She said. "I still don't know why I need to reinforce that."
"Two friends having coffee." Said Alison. "Let's start with that."
She signalled to the waiter to refresh their drinks.
"I want to see myself the way you see me." Continued Margret as they waited. "I think I lost myself over the years. I became more product than woman. A tool to be used. A weapon to be deployed in order to win some war built on lies and fantasy."
There was a pause between the two women as their eyes locked onto one another.
"That was a dramatic speech." Said Alison with a smile.
"Wasn't it just." Agreed Margret with a smile of her own.
Alison sat back in her chair.
"Would you like me to tell you what I see?"
"I don't know - Do I?"
"Let's find out."
The waiter brought two more coffees over.
"At the airport, I saw a woman who had grown out of her life, in much the same way that she has grown out of the dress she wore. Tight, was the word that I used to describe her. Tight hair, tight dress and tight features."
"She sounds attractive." She said with irony in her tone.
Alison leaned forward in her seat.
"Oh, but she was you see. For if you took the time to look deeper, you could see that it wasn't that the woman was too big for the dress, it was the dress that was too small for her. After you saw that then, well - Everything else was clear."
"Yes." Enthused Alison. "You see, the woman had become too big for the life she was leading. Emotions and feelings were starting to spill out."
She raised her eyebrows as she nodded her head towards Margret's bosom. "Just like certain other parts of her."
Margret looked down.
"What's wrong with showing a little cleavage?".
"Absolutely nothing." Said, Alison, as she put her hands up. "It's just that the girls have obviously made the executive decision to escape the confines of that dress."
"Sound like jealousy to me, stick girl" Smiled Margret as she sipped her coffee.
"Not me. I'm quite happy with going up and down. I couldn't handle all the in and outie bits. You must have a terrible time with weight to balance issues."
Margret could feel herself starting to enjoy Alison's company, and although she had met the girl a little over half an hour ago, she felt that she had known her for years.
"It helps to have a big arse as a counterbalance."
Alison laughed out loud. Something that drew the attention of the other customers. It was an easy laugh. Well-practiced and used often.
"It must be nice to have a pair of hips."
"Something to stop your knickers falling down you mean?"
This time Alison squeaked her laughter at Margret's inappropriate comment. After they had both calmed down enough to continue, Margret said
"Tight" By way of a reminder.
"Yes" Continued Alison. "I watched you board the plane. It was kind of symbolic, you know, the way that you would try to adjust yourself in a bid to cover the bits that would show you as a woman. It's a bit like the armour that the Greeks used to wear."
"Greeks?" Said Margret with confusion in her voice. Something that was echoed in her expression.
"Or anyone who wears armour. It's anatomically correct but represents an ideal of what the man underneath wants to look like. It's an image to reinforce his manhood."
"That's very astute of you." Said Margret, who was genuinely surprised at what was coming out of the mouth of someone so young.
"Thank you." Replied Alison.
"So, what you are saying is, the clothes that I wear represent a kind of armour."
"Something to create an image of the kind of women you think the world wants to see and has nothing to do with the abilities you have to perform the tasks required of our sex."
Margret thought about this before saying.
"But I like my armour."
"I like your armour." Agreed Alison. "But you exude your sexuality with or without it."
She reached across at took Margret's hands once more.
"You don't have to reinforce your femininity. The way you dress should always extenuate and compliment who you are, it shouldn't be who you are - And Never hide who you are"
There was another silence as Margret pondered Alison's sage but age inappropriate wisdom.
"So, what does the way you dress say about you?" Margret asked eventually.
"I dress for comfort. And as a reminder that I should take the time to explore the world and the people in it." She added whilst gesturing towards Margret. "Worrying about what I am going to wear, or what people think of me is a distraction from all of that."
Margret said nothing, for she felt that there was more to come. There was.
"Mum died when I was ten you see."
"Oh, how awful." Said Margret.
"It was." Agreed Alison. "I guess that's why I am the way I am. I don't own much and I try to experience everything because tomorrow it could all be gone."
"Can I ask how she died."
"Neural Blastoma." Replied Alison. "It's a childhood cancer really. Quite rare in adults, so I'm told, but poor old Mum drew the short straw."
"How ironic." Said Margret with a smile.
Margret tapped the side of her head and said,
There was an inevitable silence.
"Well, that's awkward." Said Alison eventually.
She had a refreshingly, unfiltered way of expressing herself, something that contradicted Margret's guarded, well-rehearsed and structured conversations.
"In what way?" She asked.
"Well, now you're going to think I am some sort of pervert who goes for older women because I have some sort of weird, pseudo-Oedipus complex."
"Have you?" Asked Margret.
Alison, alarmingly in Margret's eyes, thought about this for a second before saying.
"Nah. I didn't know you were checking out early, so to speak, so it wasn't that that attracted me to you."
"Checking out early?"
"I think that's the medical term - Yes." Said Alison. She returned Margret's smile, who shook her head in mock exasperation before saying.
"So, what was it then that you found so 'interesting' about me?"
"A lady with big tits, wearing a short, tight dress. What wasn't there to like?"
"And you claim not to be gay?" Said Margret with a slight laugh.
"I do. Look." Alison said as she leaned in closer. She lowered her voice a little, more to save Margret's blushes than her own. "Finding something, or someone beautiful shouldn't automatically be translated into something sexual. In fact.' She continued. "Most things hold beauty without being sexy - Just look at the flowers."
"Fair point." Agreed Margret. "So are you saying that you have no desire to get me into bed." Her tone was slyly mocking. Something that Alison either chose to ignore or didn't notice.
"I'm not saying that." She said with earnest in her voice. "It's just something that comes after the initial attraction. The natural progression of expression if you like."
"But the basic attraction is one of desire. You said yourself it was the dress and the tits that got your attention."
Alison nodded whilst turning the corners of her mouth down in thought.
"Attention yes. But the desire to see what lay beyond that was more than the need to see you naked. I found you interesting before I found you sexy - It might be a girl thing."
Margret had started to warm to the subject and signalled to the waiter for more coffee.
"A girl thing?" She asked.
"Maybe. Men feel the need to procreate as soon as possible. It seldom matters about what is going on between a woman's ears, its what's between her legs that he finds more desirable."
"True - But maybe not all cases."
The waiter brought them their coffee's and started to clear away the empty cups. When he had gone, Alison continued with her views.
"Women are more, emotional. They want to get to know the person first before climbing into bed with them."
"Again, True." Said Margret. "But not in all cases."
"But most." Repeated Alison.
Margret took a sip of her coffee and winced. "No sugar." She said.
"My reason for coming here today was purely out of desire. The assumption that this would lead to sex was definitely born of a basic desire - Be it sexual, or a need for human contact is still not clear to me."
"You came here in order to have sex with me?" Said Alison. She tried to act shocked, but her ego betrayed her with a broad smile that lit up her face. "That's actually kinda cool coming from you."
"Coming from me?"
"Yeah. You have to admit that your initial reaction to me when I first asked you to join me for a coffee was a little - Frosty."
Margret raised her eyebrows at the memory of how she had behaved on their first meeting.
"Quite frankly, I was insulted by your assumptions, and the insinuation of some latent homosexuality."
"And yet, a week later, you sought me out in order to explore that side of you, based on the invitation of joining me for a coffee." She stirred her own drink before lifting the cup to her mouth. She stopped halfway and said. "The irony being of course, that there was no mention or inference of lesbianism."
Margret felt a little foolish at her pre-programmed reactions.
"And how do you feel now?" She asked nervously.
"I would like to get to know you a little more before we - You know."
She winked over the brim of her coffee cup, and Margret relaxed a little. From then on, and for most of the afternoon, Margret spoke about her life, her work and her subsequent realization that all she had worked for over the years had come with a price of its own, with the shuddering stop and a sudden reminder of her own mortality. Alison interjected here and there with comparisons of her own when relevant, but for the most part, it was all Margret. When the sun began to set some hours later, the chill of the spring evening reminded them both that they were inadequately dressed to be outside.
"I would like to say something." Said Alison sensing that their time together was coming to a close.
"That would seem fair. After all, I seemed to have monopolized the conversation."
"Not at all." She paused as if arranging her words before letting them spill out. "I'm not sure where this", she pointed her finger, switching back and forth between the pair of them. "is going. But I would like to get one thing straight between us."
Margret had very much enjoyed the afternoon. She found Alison funny and attentive. This sudden switch in her mood though caused an apprehensive feeling deep within her.
"Go on." She said.
"Well. I like you, and I am hoping that you like me."
"Very much so." Replied Margret, again, the words leaving her lips before any internal editing.
"Good." Smiled Alison. "Because there are two things that I need to do. One is to ask you if you would like to come on a date with me. Not 'just coffee', but a real date."
"Okay." Said Margret. "When you do ask me, then I will probably say yes. What the next thing?"
"I don't like labels." Continued Alison. "I hate being put in a box. When I told you earlier that I wasn't gay, I meant it."
Margret felt very nervous and scared as to where she was going with this, something to which Alison must have picked up on. She leaned across the table and took Margret's hand.
"As much as I do not see age, I do not categorize my feelings - nor do I choose to ignore them. I am very attracted to you Margret, but the world will see us and always presume to judge us because they will assume just as our waiter friend did earlier that you and I are nothing more than Mother and daughter. I have to know that you are prepared for that - before I do my second thing."
Margret took a deep breath and let out a year of a sigh.
"It took a lot for me to come here today." She said. "But I'm glad I did. For the first time in my life, I haven't felt the need to lie in order to 'sell' myself." She made Alison's trademark air quotes with her fingers and said, "Oh, and by the way, I hate.." she did it again, "This."
"Now, I have no idea if I am gay, straight or otherwise." She continued. "But what I do know is that I am comfortable in your presence, and that is something I would like to explore further. But." She continued. "I can't say that I will be able to ignore the age gap between us, or even ignore the opinions of others, because if I did, then I will just be replacing one lie with another, and with the limited time I have left that's not something I want to waste precious breath on."
Alison sat quietly for a few seconds and just smiled.
"It's because of this limited time that I would like to explore these new feeling that I have, but not at the cost of a broken heart - Yours or mine." Continued Margret. "But there is so much more I want to do, and so this." She added, and extenuated to by mimicking the to and fro motioning with her finger. "Can only be a one-off."
"My mind needs motion and stimulation in order to think. Plus, I may have overdosed on caffeine." Said Alison eventually. "Let's go for a walk."
"In these heels?" Laughed Margret. "I may well break an ankle if we go off-road."
"You could always take them off." Suggested Alison.
Margret raised her eyebrows.
"Young lady. I am already noticeably older than you, so I'll be damned if I will be shorter too."
"I'll hold your hand then - Just to stop you from falling."
Alison held out her hand and wiggled her fingers.
"Just to stop me falling?"
"If it makes you feel better."
As her smooth, manicured hand slipped along Alison's long slender fingers, Margret felt that she had taken this exploration into her own sexuality to a new level, for this baser feeling of lust, created by nothing more than a dream had escalated into genuine affection for this girl. It wasn't lust. It wasn't love. It was companionship.
"What was the second thing that you wanted to do?" Said Margret, as they walked. Alison stopped and held her head up to the last rays of the setting sun as if composing her thoughts into something that would only need saying once. She turned to Margret.
"I'll tell you tomorrow." She said with a smile.
They both continued to walk, hand in hand towards the main entrance to the park. "So where would you like to go on our date?"
"Anywhere but the opera." Said Margret. "I hate the opera."
"Bloody Hell." Hooted Alison. "Do you think I'm made of money? The only thing you're getting out of me is a movie, and maybe a possible drink afterward."
"Cheapskate. I hope you don't expect me to put out afterward."
"Too right I do." Said Alison. "Half a lager and I'm anybody's - Mind you, a pint and I'm everybody's."
"Good to know." Laughed Margret.
They stopped at the gates and both turned to one another.
"When we first met," said Margret as she took both Alison's hands in hers. "I asked you what sort of woman you thought I was."
"You did." Agreed Alison. "As I remember, you were very delightful about it."
"I am known for being very charming."
"To be honest.' Continued Alison, "I had pretty much made up my mind at that point as to what sort of woman you were - Until you texted me."
"As I said." Replied Margret. "Charming."
Alison touched the side of Margret's face and pushed her fingers up through her hair. The nature of the day dictated that she respond by pushing her cheek into Alison's touch.
"I think that a reminder of your own mortality would be enough to cause anyone to be a bit cranky."
Margret put her hand up to Alison's.
"Today I have discovered that an attraction to someone doesn't define your sexuality. In truth, it just say's that your desires can stretch beyond the borders set out by the limitations of your pre-conceived notions as to what desire really is."
Alison cocked her head to one side.
"Are you saying that you fancy me?"
"In a roundabout way - Yes."
Alison smiled and let both hands drop to Margret's waist. She stopped.
"What is it?" Said Margret in response to the quizzical look on Alison's face.
"How much of this is you?" She asked.
"It's a corset."
"For real?" Replied Alison as her hands padded around her mid-section.
"Lots of women wear them." Came the flat reply.
Margret raised her eyebrows.
"That's because you are built like a stick. You don't even wear a bra."
"Been looking, have we?"
This was met with another raising of Margret's eyebrows.
"You know, there are photographers out there that would have to use special effects to get their models that thin - That's proper skinny."
"Is it," continued Alison, who had latched on to this subject and now found it hard to let it go. "One of those sexy ones, or a functional, Victorian type thing that requires a team of housemaids to strap you in every day?"
Margret's explosive laugh caused something less than lady-like to fall from her nose.
"I live in a two-bedroom apartment in Mayfair." She said as she wiped away the results of her amusement with a tissue. "Where would I keep a team of housemaids?"
"So, it's one of those sexy numbers then?"
"Depends on what you find sexy I suppose."
"Well, is it designed to turn on, or tone up?"
Margret shook her head and turned to walk away.
"I will see you tomorrow stick girl." She said.
"What colour is it?" Alison called as Margret walked slowly to her car.
Margret climbed into the driver's seat and wound the window down.
"Call me in the morning and let me know where we are going. I need to know what to wear."
As the car's engine roared into life. Margret winked at Alison as she pulled out into the traffic.
"Oh, come on." She wined playfully. "Don't leave a girl hanging."
But her requests were met with nothing more than two beeps from Margret's car as it joined the main drag. Alison stared after it as she pondered the events of the afternoon until it was lost as just another set of red tail lights, hidden by a thousand others like them. Eventually, she shook herself from her daydream and fished the Walkman from her bag in order that she could add a soundtrack to the walk home. The Sun had started to set, lighting the sky up pink and red which added to the mood of the day. Little fluffy clouds threatened nothing but decoration to the evening as the bounced across the sky like playful, over-excited puppies. "I bet it's red." She said as she slipped the headphones on.
Later that evening, Alison was sitting alone in her flat. The curtains were drawn and there was music playing in the background. On the ground, next to the sofa were the remains of a half-eaten pizza, and on the back of that same sofa hung the shirt and skirt she had worn that day. Alison was notorious for spilling things down her front. If it wasn't food, it was drink, which went in some way to explain her now, accepted nakedness at meal times, (accepted by all those who knew of her inability to get her food into her mouth without first introducing it to her shirt). In truth, she just felt a lot more comfortable without the restrictions of said clothing. Besides, skin was easier to wash and didn't stain. She had got to an interesting bit in her book when her phone buzzed into life. Alison tutted irritably as she picked it up.
The message on the screen read. 'Purple. M. x.'
She smiled to herself as she placed the phone back down next to her and continued reading, and as she did so Alison muttered quietly under her breath. "I like purple."